By ALI RAZA, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Ontario government released its 2021 budget earlier this week and East Toronto MPPs don’t believe it’s of much use to the local community.
Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy delivered the budget at Queen’s Park on March 24. It shows $173 billion in expenses of which $6.7 billion is on COVID-19 and $166.3 billion in overall program spending. It also projects a provincial deficit for the remainder of the decade.
Bethlenfalvy is banking on a post-pandemic economic recovery that might reduce the red ink in the books.
“When this chapter is finally closed, I’m confident that the people of Ontario are going to unleash the economic growth that is necessary for job creation, prosperity, and a stronger province,” he said.
The budget’s major features of concern to residents in East Toronto include funding for pandemic recovery, business and income support, and long-term care investment.
As the province is still its third wave of COVID-19, a significant chunk of the budget is dedicated to combating the virus.
The Ontario NDP and its MPPs in East Toronto criticized the budget saying it doesn’t add new significant supports for long-term care residents, no timeline for more personal support workers to be hired, $790 million less in school spending than last year, no paid sick days, no paid time off for vaccine shots, no new hospital capacity in Scarborough, and nothing for people with disabilities.
“It doesn’t even mention the word poverty,” Beaches-East York MPP Rima Berns-McGown said.
As the Ontario NDP critic for poverty and homelessness, Berns-McGown said homelessness has worsened as a result of the pandemic and seeing no support in the budget inhibits a “just recovery.”
“There is no recognition in the budget that some communities or groups of people suffered disproportionately because of the way our society is structured,” she said.
“This budget doesn’t do anything to ameliorate the cuts the province put in place before the pandemic.”
The province is spending $1 billion to get all Ontarians vaccinated, it’s also investing $2.3 billion for testing and contact tracing and $1.4 billion for PPE for frontline and vulnerable workers.
The province is investing $5.1 billion to support hospitals, including creating 3,100 additional beds, providing care to COVID-19 patients, addressing surgical backlogs, and keeping up with patients’ needs, but provided no timelines for these.
For long-term care, it’s investing $933 million over four years (totalling $2.6 billion) to support building 30,000 new long-term care beds. The province says it is investing $650 million in 2021 directed to reducing the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care homes.
It is also planning to spend $4.9 billion over four years to increase average direct daily care to four days a day, and hire more personal support workers.
“If you say you’re going to put capital dollars in, you also have to put in operating dollars for staff,” Toronto-Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns said. “They’re not even putting in the proper staffing levels today for the LTCs that exist.”
The budget also mentions hospital investments, but none in Scarborough, where Scarborough-Southwest MPP Doly Begum has long requested the province to expand Scarborough’s hospital network.
Begum had hoped for more investment in Scarborough, given the crunch the Scarborough Health Network has experienced over the course of the pandemic.
“This government failed to provide Scarborough with an equitable testing strategy, and now, an equitable vaccine strategy,” she said.
“The government failed to protect the vulnerable workers in my community through paid sick days and workplace safety measures.”
While Bethlenfalvy briefly mentioned how the pandemic disproportionately affected women, marginalized communities, and vulnerable residents, the budget makes no specific reference to help said groups.
Instead, the budget offers an Ontario Jobs Training Tax Credit – up to $2,000 per recipient for 50 per cent of eligible expenses for job training or education.
Small businesses are eligible for a second one-time payment of the Ontario Small Business Support Grant, which this time around will be between $10,000 to $20,000.
“A lot of people are paying $5,000 or $10,000 in rent alone,” Tabuns said. “Even in a good case, it’s not much support.”
“I talk to business owners who are still surviving, they need help now. We want them to be around and not pushed into bankruptcy, we want them to be able to rehire after the vaccinations,” Tabuns added.
While making no additional investments into education, parents are eligible for the Ontario COVID-19 Child Benefit, which offers a one-time payment of $400 per child, and $500 for each child with special needs.
The province’s GDP declined by 5.7 per cent in 2020, the government said. It’s projecting deficits until 2029-30, hoping for a post-pandemic economic boom. According to this budget, 2021-22’s deficit will be $33.1 billion.
The full 2021 Ontario budget is available for viewing at https://budget.ontario.ca/2021/index.html
Ali Raza is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.